Soft Credit Inquiries vs. Hard Credit Inquiries: What Are the Main Differences?

Soft Credit Inquiries vs. Hard Credit Inquiries: What Are the Main Differences?
Point Editorial

If you've ever looked at your credit report, you may have noticed a section containing a list of "inquiries." But knowing what these inquiries represent and how they affect your credit score isn't always so simple.

That's why we've put together this guide to help you navigate the different types of credit inquiries and learn what they mean for your financial future.

Understanding a credit inquiry

A credit inquiry happens when an individual or organization requests access to your credit report to help them evaluate your credit habits and risk level.

Credit inquiries usually happen via one of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian — and they take one of two forms: a hard inquiry or a soft inquiry.

What is a hard inquiry?

When you apply for a loan, mortgage, or credit card, lenders and credit card companies generally make a hard inquiry into your credit report. A hard inquiry gives them a detailed picture of your credit history and helps them determine what products, if any, you're eligible for.

Hard inquiries are sometimes also referred to as hard pulls or hard credit checks. They appear on your credit report and remain there for two years, serving as a signal to other lenders that you've requested credit in the past.

Common hard inquiries

  • Credit card applications
  • Mortgage applications
  • Personal loan applications
  • Car loan applications
  • Student loan applications
  • Apartment rental applications

Who uses hard inquiries? 

  • Banks, credit unions, and credit card companies: Financial institutions use hard inquiries to gauge your credit risk level when considering you for a mortgage, loan, or credit card.
  • Landlords: Potential landlords can sometimes use hard credit inquiries (with your permission) to determine your likelihood of making rent payments on time. 

What is a soft inquiry?

Soft inquiries also provide information on your credit history for potential lenders. But unlike hard credit inquiries, soft inquiries (also known as soft pulls or soft credit checks) don't require your permission and don't appear on your credit report.

Common soft inquiries

  • Pre-qualified credit card offers
  • Pre-qualified insurance quotes
  • Background checks for employment verification
  • Checking your own credit score 

Who uses soft inquiries?

  • Credit card companies: Credit card issuers use soft inquiries to send you pre-qualified offers for a new card. 
  • Insurance companies: Insurance companies perform soft inquiries to calculate pre-qualified insurance quotes.
  • Potential employers: Soft credit checks can help employers verify your employment information during the interview process.
  • Yourself: Whenever you check your credit score or request a free copy of your credit report, you perform a soft credit check. 

Soft credit check vs. hard credit check

Soft Inquiry Hard Inquiry
- Made by companies to pre-approve offers
- Doesn't affect your credit score
- Doesn’t require your permission
- Made by lenders when you apply for credit or a loan
- Affects your credit score
- Requires written consent

Credit inquiries and credit cards 

Applying for a new credit card almost always results in a hard inquiry into your credit report. 

However, you can usually qualify for pre-approval with only a soft check, and some companies even offer soft-pull credit cards. 


Credit card pre-approval is a way for credit card companies to promote and sell their cards. 

Card issuers make soft inquiries into potential customers to evaluate their creditworthiness, then send out offers by mail inviting them to apply for a card.

Some companies also allow you to get pre-approved for a card before applying to help you make a more informed decision. But remember: if you end up applying for a pre-approved card, the issuer will then make a hard inquiry into your credit.

Soft-pull credit cards

If you have bad credit because of a history of defaults or bankruptcy, you may still want to apply for a credit card while avoiding a hard inquiry into your credit. 

That's where soft-pull credit cards come in, allowing you to apply for a credit card without affecting your credit score. Most soft-pull credit cards are secured, meaning they require a security deposit equal to the amount of credit you get. This allows users with poor credit to build their credit history in the hopes of eventually qualifying for a regular, unsecured credit card.

Protecting your credit score

Although soft credit pulls are pretty much harmless, hard inquiries appear on your credit report for two years and cause a slight dip in your credit score. 

The effect on your score is small (usually fewer than five points) and doesn't last very long, but you should still be careful not to let too many hard inquiries get in the way of your financial objectives.

What to do before an inquiry 

Before applying for a mortgage, loan, or credit card, always ask lenders whether they perform a soft or hard credit inquiry. If possible, try to get a pre-approval with only a soft pull on your credit.

Don't apply for too many loans 

When you make repeated applications for loans or credit cards, it signals to lenders that you're desperate to borrow, which might mean you're in financial difficulty. 

To protect your credit score, keep new loan applications to a minimum. 

Check your credit frequently

Checking your own credit doesn't result in a hard inquiry, doesn't affect your score, and can help you keep tabs on your credit history. 

Many banks and credit unions allow you to check your credit score online for free. You can also get one free copy a year of your own credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus at

Dispute unauthorized inquiries 

When reviewing your credit reports, you should look for errors, fraudulent information, and credit inquiries that took place without your permission. If you discover any unauthorized credit inquiries, it might mean you've been the victim of identity theft, so make sure to dispute them with the credit bureaus. 

FAQs about Soft and Hard Credit Checks

Can you get a credit card with a soft pull?

Yes and no. In most cases, applying for a credit card results in a hard pull. But some companies also offer soft-pull credit cards that don't require a hard credit check. Instead, they require a refundable security deposit to open an account. 

Can you get a limit credit increase with a soft pull? 

It depends on the card issuer and the specific circumstances of the increase. Usually, credit card companies make soft inquiries to evaluate cardholders for automatic limit increases and hard inquiries when the cardholder requests a higher limit. 

Are soft-pull credit cards worth it? 

It depends on your situation. Soft-pull credit cards can be useful if you have bad credit that limits your access to regular credit cards. But if you can get approved, regular credit cards usually offer better terms. 

How long do inquiries stay on your credit? 

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), inquiries must remain on your credit report for at least 12 months, but most credit reporting agencies keep them on your report for up to two years.

How many points will hard inquiries cost you?

Hard credit inquiries usually lower your credit score by fewer than five points. That impact is only temporary and disappears after a few months.

Will checking my credit scores result in a hard inquiry? 

No. Checking your own credit score results in a soft inquiry and doesn't affect your credit score.

Can you remove hard inquiries from your credit report? 

Only if they're the result of a mistake or fraud. Legitimate hard inquiries remain on your credit report for up to two years and cannot be removed before then.

Bottom line

Limiting hard credit inquiries is vital to keep your credit score where you want it and reach your financial objectives.

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